1. SPEND TIME TOGETHER
Even ten minutes a day of uninterrupted time to touch base builds connection. Spending more time when available and setting aside time to be together (e.g., date nights) are just as important. The key is being present, focusing only on the person in front of you, to the exclusion of all other distractions. This builds connection and closeness.
2. LISTEN AND SUPPORT EACH OTHER
It is essential to learn how to actively listen to each other and express support for your spouse’s day-today life issues, no matter how small and mundane.
3. EXPRESS GRATITUDE
Remember to say “thank you” for the little things you often take for granted. Even though you expect your spouse to take out the garbage, cook dinner, and pick up the dry cleaning, it is important to express your appreciation as often as possible. If you would do it for a stranger, why not for your spouse? Expressing gratitude increases the positive feelings you will have regarding your relationship.
4. BE KIND TO EACH OTHER
Express compassion and understanding. Learn to listen to your spouse’s pain, validate it and help her stay strong. This is a special kindness that helps your spouse feel that she is not alone. Show your concern by doing the little things that your spouse will appreciate. Go beyond the call of duty and help your spouse without letting her know. Do the shopping and stock the refrigerator without announcing it. Do the things that only you will know are meaningful and appreciated by your spouse.
5. RESPOND TO YOUR SPOUSE
Never ignore even seemingly trivial conversation with your spouse. Giving each other the gift of attention shows that your partner is important to you.
6. BE INFLUENCED
Don’t be afraid to listen to your spouse and change your ideas or opinions on issues big and small. Insisting on your way may feel right at the moment, but that is not healthy for a marriage. Be open to what is important to your spouse. Being right has little value in marriage; making your spouse happy is what counts.
7. ARGUE RESPECTFULLY
Conflict is ubiquitous in relationships, not a sign of trouble. How you argue is the key. You don’t have to yell to be heard. Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling destroy marriages. Address the issue, don’t attack the person. Don’t overreact if your spouse is upset; he is probably looking for support, not a fight. If you find yourself being contemptuous of your spouse, it’s time to recall all the positive things about your relationship. If you’re too upset to talk about it at that moment, make a time to continue the conversation; don’t just walk away. Arguing is better than no communication.
8. MAKE UP
Practice and learn how to fix things during and after a fight. “Love is never being afraid to say I’m sorry.” Using humor, changing the subject and avoiding sensitive issues are all expressions of your concern about the relationship and making sure arguments don’t damage it. Remember, kindness counts.
9. CREATE RITUALS
Create times that are touchstones of your relationship to help keep it healthy—whether it’s bike riding Sunday mornings or going to Starbucks every Thursday night. Couples connect to each other by engaging in rituals, by sharing purposeful activities together.
10. SHARED MEANING
Doing meaningful things together makes your relationship more special. You and your spouse should get involved in a chesed activity that you both are passionate about. Volunteer to work with developmentally disabled youth or visit the lonely people at the local nursing home. Be adventurous. You’ll both benefit from the experience, and your relationship will blossom.
Rabbi Barry Holzer is a psychiatrist and his wife, Chanie, is a certified social worker. They live in Lawrence, New York.